The Violet Fern

Creating Art & Gardens

Going Native: Button Bush


Well, it’s been some time since I have posted about a native plant in my garden. I suppose I have been waiting for things to grow up a bit. If you are not a long term reader of my blog, I have purchased most of the native plants in my garden bare root through mail order. My prized Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidental is no exception. Actually a Buttonbush is one of the first natives I planted in my garden. I fell in love with its ball-sized blooms!

Buttonbush blossoms 2013

Buttonbush blossoms 2013

My garden is now covered in snow and shellacked in ice but this past summer, my Buttonbush bloomed for the first time and boy oh boy, was it worth the wait! Understand how I fell in love?

Buttonbush bloom 2013

Buttonbush bloom 2013

Buttonbush likes a moist soil (in fact I moved mine from its original planting spot – off to a slow start – to a wetter part of the garden which enticed it to bloom for me). It is a good choice native plant to grow in wet, sunny or partly shady spots in your garden. It would be right at home along a pond, lake or stream and can even grow in standing water.

I am growing mine in zone 4 but its range extends South to Florida. It has large, beautiful dark green leaves. And although the leaves themselves are enough to sell me, the flowers will blow any plant lover away! It is no wonder that this plant is considered a honey plant: a plant that furnishes nectar suitable for making honey. So, obviously it attracts and is a great resource for many nectar loving butterflies, bees and insects. I witnessed this attraction! It is also a larval host plant for the Titan Sphinx, Aellopos titan, and Hydrangea Sphinx, Darapsa versicolor moth. In fact I may have sighted a Titan Sphinx (which I generalized as a Hawk or Hummingbird Moth) in my garden last summer? (New Year note: be more observant!)

Its habit is spreading, multi-stemmed with an irregular crown but did I mention the flowers? Its bloom time is tooted to be from June through August. What delighted me was that the spectacular flowers turned into interesting balls of seed in beautiful shades of red and pink come September!


Leaves in evening light


Leaves in sunlight

Seedhead close up - wish it had better focus - but you can see the beautiful color!

Seed head close up – wish it had better focus – but you can see the beautiful color!

I noticed Bluestone Perennials is now offering a “nativar” of Buttonbush occidental ‘Sugar Shack’ who’s growth habit is smaller in size, 3-4 ft, vs. the true native species which can reach 8-12 ft (for those of you with space restrictions.)

No pond should be without a Buttonbush! (A moist soil will also suit a Buttonbush.)

Sources:, Prairie Moon Nursery, Bluestone Perennials,

Author: Kathy Sturr

Artist, master gardener, plant-based chef. Florida's Nature Coast / Indian River Lakes, NY

8 thoughts on “Going Native: Button Bush

  1. will they pick, or do they sulk in a vase? Those buttons are unusual!

    • I really don’t know Diana. I couldn’t bear to pick its first blooms! I will (hopefully) find out next year. It would be nice to cut at least one and admire it up close in the house. Thanks for the idea.

  2. That is beautiful:-) Problem is my garden is so dry, I don’t have many wet spaces unless they are by the faucet when I forget to close it tightly-lol! hmmmm, but I REALLY like the look of that plant, you are right it is striking and the creatures it attracts-enticing…will have to check out Bluestone for a smaller one:-)
    I started a lot of my natives from roots,too, but over the years some have been lost in my garden. I am evaluating my garden this summer and trying to see what is still around and clean up my overgrown area. Wish me luck:-) it will be a project. I am starting some from seed right now to see if I can actually grow them myself—they do take a bit longer to germinate and I am not always the most patient!

    • Perhaps the smaller nativar ‘Sugar Shack’ will perform in a drier soil. It is an exciting plant. I have lost many plants. In fact I just realized I never spotted my chocolate Joe-Pye in bloom which means it was most likely overtaken – need more of that! I too, need to reevaluate my gardens. This year I hope to work on “Hosta Row.” I really need to work on my front garden but I don’t like to work out front on the street! And I really do want to add some kind of small pond or pool – always so much to do. I will be planting Spikenard this Spring though – that is my first goal. Good luck with yours Robbie!

      • No wonder you are a kindred spirit-I sometimes avoid working in the front yard too! I have to be in the “convo” mood since we have a lot of people that walk by ALL day and I sometimes don’t get much done since they want to stop + chat…I don’t mind, but if I have to get a lot of work done, I don’t! I LOVE joe-pye! I will look forward to your pictures of the Chocolate Pye since I have never seen one in a garden, but it has my eye:-)

  3. Hi Kathy,

    You got my interest with your post today! I saw the button bush in my neighbor’s yard this summer and when I asked what it was she said it is some native pant that her dad’s grew from seed. I never follow-up to see the bloom but from the height and foliage, location and condition it is very likely this! I think i have the right conditions in my yard so I will ask my neighbor for a seedling this spring!
    I will also get the smaller variety Sugar Snack.
    Seing your comments above, I also had trouble twice now ith the chocolate Joe-Pye variety. I have to research the conditions it likes because obviously it doesn’t like facing the west dry or moist.
    Daniela, Ohio

  4. Daniela you will love Buttonbush! I wonder if I will find any volunteers come spring? I always love to hear about native plants in our gardens. They really do help out wildlife and they are beautiful! My Chocolate Joe was doing extremely well until I moved it when we built our new back porch. I think it actually likes more shade. I will have to try again in my new more shady “Hosta Row” section of the garden – the competition there is also less fierce. I love it because it blooms late in the season and the color of its leaves appeals to me also. I hope your neighbor is able to give you a seedling of Buttonbush! – if not I purchased mine bare root from Prairie Moon Nursery.

  5. Kathy I will have to add this to the list as I have a perfect spot for this beauty!!

Thank you for joining me in the making of my garden!

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